Elizabeth Durfee inducted into The Randolph Society


The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Elizabeth Durfee, a trailblazing law enforcement officer who challenged the perception of gender norms in Randolph County, will be inducted into the 2021 class of honorees.

Elizabeth Ackermann was born in rural Red Bud in October 1895. The granddaughter of German immigrants, she and her siblings were raised on the family farm and educated in both German and English in local schools. She worked hard to help her parents on the farm, doing chores and ferrying milk to the creamery in town. A talented shot from a young age, she learned early on how to handle a gun safely and accurately. She loved to hunt and fish with her brothers, and she was dedicated to outdoor pursuits like riding, skating, and bicycling.

An early tragedy shaped her life significantly. Her older brother, Herman, died in the influenza pandemic of 1918 while serving in the army.  In her grief, Elizabeth decided to embark on a new life for herself. She left Red Bud for St. Louis, where she quickly found work in an unexpected profession. She became one of the city’s first female streetcar conductors, working on the Jefferson, Cherokee, and Tower Grove lines. The job was sometimes physically demanding, but Elizabeth persevered, working in the city for a decade.

By the 1930s, Elizabeth had returned home to Red Bud. There, she met and married a local widower, Winsor Lee Durfee. He sold farm machinery and automobiles and ran a filling station in town. For decades, he had also served as a constable. His duties serving summonses, collecting court fees, conducting evictions, and repossessing property. Only four years after they married, however, Winsor died suddenly in 1940 at the age of 62. Because she was familiar with the responsibilities he had held as constable, Elizabeth was tapped in the summer of 1940 to serve as his temporary replacement until an election could be held that November.

Without hesitation, 44-year-old Elizabeth pinned the constable’s badge to her dress and stepped into her late husband’s shoes. Very few women in state, let alone the country, served as county constables, but just as she’d done on the streetcars of St. Louis, Elizabeth took on her new responsibilities fearlessly and with determination. She had inherited Winsor’s 1938 coupe and his .38 pistol, and she used both in her new job, which involved facing her fellow citizens at some of their lowest moments. One journalist described her can-do attitude succinctly: “She takes on all assignments and neither expects nor gets help from anyone.”

Through her genuine care for the people of her community and her fair approach to justice, Elizabeth quickly won the appreciation of those with whom she lived and worked. Still, it was a shock to many when she decided to run to keep the job of constable in November 1940—and an even bigger surprise when she easily won the election. She would go on to be elected to the post several more times, holding the job for a remarkable eighteen years. She approached her duties with candor and determination, not backing down from challenges in tough situations. But she also tried very hard to be kind when she could, offering outreach to local citizens who needed it very much. After serving an eviction notice to a local family, she found them secure housing, as well as a loan to help them establish a firm foundation.

Elizabeth worked for a local mailbox manufacturing company and conducted her constable duties on nights and weekends. By the 1950s, the press began to catch wind of Elizabeth’s unusual job. She was featured in multiple major news profiles, which were syndicated across the nation. But the sudden celebrity didn’t change much about Elizabeth’s life. When her constable duties ended in 1958, shortly before the state abolished the role and reassigned constable duties to sheriffs’ departments, Elizabeth maintained an active life. She lived to the remarkable age of 99, passing away in September 1995, just a month before her 100th birthday.

Elizabeth’s long life of self-assured work in areas traditionally not open to women provided a fantastic example to those around her, allowing them to adjust their expectations about traditional gender roles in the workplace. Her commitment to fair, humane law enforcement also offers all of us a model to follow in our interactions with our fellow community members. With determination, fearlessness, and confidence in her own abilities, Elizabeth Durfee blazed a trail for working women that continues to serve as an inspiration today.


Click here to read a more detailed biography of Elizabeth Durfee.

Clemmie Mae Sternberg inducted into The Randolph Society

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Clemmie Mae Sternberg, a dedicated volunteer who worked to bring educational opportunities and medical advancements to the people of the area, will be inducted into the 2021 class of honorees.

Clemmie Mae Harmon was born in New Palestine in October 1900. She was the daughter of a pair of immigrant families. Her great-grandfather, Michael Harmon, was an early settler who came to the county in 1811. Her mother’s parents were German immigrants who arrived in the middle of the nineteenth century. Clemmie grew up on a farm with her parents and her siblings, and she learned the value of helping her neighbor from an early age.

After finishing school and working as a telephone operator, Clemmie married William G. Sternberg in March 1921. They raised four children, Charles, Ruth, Glen, and Bertha, on a dairy farm in Schuline. While working to provide educational opportunities for her children, she developed a passion for extending those same benefits to others in her community. She was one of the founding members of the Randolph County Home Bureau, an outreach project sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension.

The extension project, now called the Illinois Association for Home and Community Education, set out to provide continuing home education classes to women throughout the state. The groups gathered in the homes of its members, providing a comfortable and safe place for women to learn about topics like finances and nutrition. They also offered an important social outlet for women in rural areas who were sometimes isolated from their neighbors, reinforcing a sense of community and companionship. Clemmie helped organize the local bureau, which launched in May 1945, and served on its board of directors. She also frequently hosted meetings at her own home.

Attending the monthly home extension meetings gave Clemmie an even clearer understanding of the needs of the women and families of Randolph County. She was inspired to extend her volunteerism, focusing on ways to support and improve the medical care in the area. She joined the Randolph County chapter of the American Cancer Society, becoming its public education chair. Clemmie also became deeply involved with the efforts to establish a community hospital in Sparta. After the closure of the Sutherland Hospital in the early 1950s left Sparta without a major medical facility, Clemmie joined a group of local citizens who aimed to reopen and renovate the building as a community hospital.

Judge Paul Nehrt appointed Clemmie to the new nine-member hospital board in 1954, and she helped to raise both awareness and funds for the hospital within the community. After an extensive renovation project, the new Sparta Community Hospital admitted its first patients in June 1955. Clemmie was one of the proud members of the board of directors who helped introduce the hospital to the community in an open house. She also joined the new Women’s Auxiliary and was instrumental in setting up Red Cross blood drives at the hospital.

Even as she grew older, her drive to be force for good in her community did not wane. She served as a patroness of Sparta’s Delta Theta Tau sorority, and was an active member of the First United Methodist Church of Sparta, where she taught Sunday school classes. In her retirement years, she could be found at the senior centers in Sparta and Evansville. She was also an active member of the Retired Senior Volunteer program for almost two decades. Her family remembers her traveling to local nursing homes to read the newspaper to residents well into her 80s.

Clemmie Mae Harmon Sternberg passed away in September 1991 at the age of 90. During her lifetime, which spanned more than a century of major change and development in Randolph County, Clemmie was dedicated to leaving the world a better place for those who came after her. Her passion for education gave local women a chance to expand their own knowledge bases and develop a strong and dependable community, and her commitment to establishing state-of-the-art medical facilities in the area offered local patients access to greater advances in healthcare. Today, thirty years after her death, residents of Randolph County are still benefiting from the work she did to improve the lives of citizens at home and within the larger community.


Click here to read a more detailed biography of Clemmie Mae Sternberg.

Ned Carlton inducted into the Randolph Society

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Ned Carlton, a dedicated educator who helped usher the county’s school systems into a more modern era, will be inducted into the 2021 class of honorees.

Ned Farris Carlton was born in Vienna, Illinois, in 1906. Along with his brothers, he grew up on his family’s Johnson County farm, until a move to Coulterville changed his life and his future career. In Randolph County, his father began working at a Coulterville bank, but he also occasionally taught in local schools. Ned was inspired by his father’s educational work, and after enrolling at SINU in Carbondale, he decided to major in education himself.

Ned’s first teaching job was back home in Coulterville. There, he met a fellow teacher named Marguerite Wilson, whom he would marry in 1930. Dedicated to education and family, the couple raised two children as Ned took on several successive teaching positions in the county. He spent several years teaching on Kaskaskia Island, and in 1933, took on a new position in the Steeleville district, where he worked as both a teacher and a coach. In 1938, he decided to run for the county’s top educational job: Randolph County Superintendent of Schools. He won the election and began work as county superintendent in August 1939. He would ultimately run for the office, and win, six consecutive times.

The county schools that Ned were tasked with leading looked very different from the educational system that exists in Randolph County today. One-room schoolhouses still dotted the countryside, and the county contained more than 100 individual school districts. Some schools still taught children primarily in French and German, and in some cases, a school was only attended by three or four pupils. “When I started,” Ned later reflected, “I couldn’t even find half of the county schools.” Ned knew that these small schools wouldn’t be able to provide the children of Randolph County with the best educational experience, and during his tenure as county superintendent, he worked toward the goal of consolidating the tiny districts into larger schools with more students and more resources. His friendly manner, and his ability to remember the names of almost everyone he met, helped him earn the respect of the people of the county, even as they sometimes resisted the big changes he wanted to implement. Over the course of his tenure in office, small country schools were transformed into larger unit districts, with four-year high schools, consistent curricula, and wider-ranging opportunities for students.

Challenges at the county superintendent’s offices were met equally by challenges in Ned’s personal life. The early death of his wife, who was also an assistant in his office, was a major blow. He also suffered from heart problems from a young age, which caused him some set-backs but also compelled him to get involved with fundraising and volunteerism. He was very involved in heart-related fundraising work in Randolph County, serving as treasurer of the county’s Heart Fund Drive, and he became a founding member of the Randolph County Heart Unit. He also volunteered with numerous additional organizations, including the Boy Scouts, the Optimist Club, and the Randolph County Tourist and Recreation Association. Social to the core, Ned also joined the Masons, the Shriners, and the Elks Club. He was also a committed volunteer with the Randolph County Red Cross.

As county superintendent, Ned focused on both the current education of the area’s students and their future prospects, setting up Career Day programs and emphasizing the need for vocational education. He retired from the office in 1963, after almost a quarter century at the helm at Randolph County’s schools. An avid hunter and fisher, he spent his retirement years continuing to run his boat sales and service shop, Carlton Boat & Motor, near the Mississippi in Chester. He was even able to aid in water rescues on the river. But he couldn’t leave education behind completely: he also worked as a substitute teacher and served as director of Randolph County Head Start.

Affable and friendly, yet driven and committed, Ned managed to nudge Randolph County’s educational system into the future. One of his colleagues, Hazel Montroy, remembered him noting, “Never take one’s self too seriously. Be adaptable.” He lived that adage faithfully until the end of his life. After suffering from increasing problems with his heart in the last months of his life, Ned died in Chester on July 16, 1972, at the age of 66. He was remembered for his kindness, his curiosity, and his never-ending love of learning. “Everyone who met Ned Carlton knew that they had lost a friend when he passed on,” recalled one of these friends, Chuck Trent. “As long as the Mississippi rolls past Chester,” he added, “Ned Carlton will live. That’s about all you can say about Ned Carlton. He lived for others, and others have lived better because of him.”

Click here to read a more detailed biography of Ned Carlton.

The Black Civil War Soldiers of Randolph County inducted into the Randolph Society

The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that the Black Civil War Soldiers of Randolph County will be inducted into the 2021 class of honorees.

We know the names of eleven Black men from Randolph County who served in the Union Army in the Civil War, though it is possible that more volunteered from the area as well. Five of them—Jean-Baptiste Bisson, Isidore Cyntha, Frederic Joseph, Pierre Joseph, and John Therese—were born and raised in Prairie du Rocher. The remaining six were all residents of Sparta: Levi Block, Henry Coles, Joseph Griffin, Levi LaFleur, Joseph Morrison, and Joseph Van Buren Rowlett. They were all members of established communities of African-American residents in the county, and many of them were related by blood or by marriage. All would share the bond they formed while serving in the military for the rest of their lives. The first regiment of Black soldiers in Illinois was not formed until 1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation. All eleven of Randolph County’s Black soldiers enlisted in the army in February 1865.

Though Illinois had entered the union as a free state in 1818, historian Carl J. Ekberg notes that “black servitude of one kind or another, outright slavery or extended indentureship, persisted well after Illinois became a state.” All of the Black soldiers from the county were born before 1848, when a new state constitution finally banned slavery for good, and at least some of them were enslaved when they were born. They grew up at a time when African-American residents of the state were subject to a series of laws, called the Black Codes, that cruelly and systematically restricted the freedoms of Black residents of Illinois. Though they faced immense prejudice within their home state, and though Black soldiers were known to have been targeted with particularly brutal violence by Confederate soldiers, these eleven men were still willing to risk their lives and their livelihoods in service to their country. Their decisions to enlist, even knowing that they might face exceptional danger simply because of the color of their skin, were examples of remarkable bravery.

The eleven men, who were mustered into companies of the 29th US Colored Infantry Regiment, arrived at the battlefront in Virginia in March 1865. They were part of the Union Army’s final defeat of the Confederate forces, participating in small battles and skirmishes as the Union closed in on Lee’s army. On March 30, 1865, one of the soldiers from Randolph County, Jean-Baptiste Bisson, gave his life for his country. He went missing in action in heavy rain near Hatcher’s Run, and he was later declared dead. The remaining Randolph County soldiers survived the final weeks of the war, and some were in Appomattox on the day of the Confederate surrender.

While many soldiers were able to return home after peace had been established, the Black soldiers from Randolph County were given an additional mission. In May 1865, they sailed from Virginia aboard crowded, cramped steamships to the coast of Texas. There, they were tasked with restoring order to the state. The soldiers from Randolph County arrived in Galveston, where, on June 19, 1865, they may have personally witnessed a momentous event: the reading of General Order No. 3 by General Granger, which notified the enslaved people of Texas that they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. The event, which took place on June 19, 1865, is now known as “Juneteenth.”

The regiment was stationed on the Rio Grande for several months before they were issued their orders to return home. The soldiers from Randolph County were mustered out at Brownsville on November 6, 1865. They traveled home to Illinois, boarding riverboats for the journey up the Mississippi, and received their final paychecks at Camp Butler near Springfield. All ten of the surviving veterans returned to Prairie du Rocher and Sparta, and with one exception, it appears that all of them lived out the rest of their lives in Randolph County, raising families, running farms, and remaining vital members of their communities, even in the face of racial prejudice that persisted, and has continued to persist, long after emancipation.

The service of the Black Union soldiers from Illinois was not publicly celebrated or recognized during their lifetimes. No veterans’ organizations or reunions brought them together to share and remember their time in service to their nation. Even after risking their lives for their country, they continued to experience segregation and prejudice at home. A national memorial to the service of Black men who fought in the war was finally dedicated in Washington, D.C., in 1998. It would be a fitting tribute to recognize these local veterans, one of whom gave his life for his nation, with a memorial in their home county as well.

Click here to read a more detailed biography of the Black Civil War Soldiers of Randolph County.